"Critical self-awareness should cause people to realise their actions restrict others…" - Amy Greer casts a sociological eye over the pit
(Andy’s note: Sociological language applied to punk/hc makes me as happy as a fistful of cherry Pez.)
Allow me a moment to set the scene. A band I’m really into has just played the opening bars of a song. I push through the crowd to get to the front of the room, to sing along, and maybe tap my feet, my preferred way of outwardly indicating that I’m enjoying the song. But when I’m a few rows away from the front, four or five guys surge forward, head down, and start stomping the floor, beating their chests with their fists, and looking as if they’re involved in some intense and troubling emotional experience I couldn’t begin to understand. I stand back, let them at it, feeling limited by this physical display, and can’t help but feel my enjoyment has been slightly compromised by this display, this ritual performance of testosterone and aggression brought to life, that everyone bar the 5 people taking up the very front of the floor are not directly involved in.
Too much of the time when I mention it, I’m told 'girls' don’t mosh because they’re not strong/aggressive/angry enough, presuming males are taller/stronger/angrier than all females, failing to acknowledge that only a tiny proportion of those present actual do mosh, and they are not guaranteed to be representative of the strongest in the room. The size/strength argument is embedded in so much social construction and conditioning that unravelling it would be a nightmare. I don’t wish to use something as reductivist as the female/male dichotomy card to explain what I think is happening when people, mostly males, mosh. Rather than a basic gendered distinction, I would rather argue that a complex interplay of social norms, performance, ritual and also cultural specificities intersect in an interesting way that is both generalisable to many experiences of popular music and culture and specific to my specific experiences of specific types of hardcore. I feel anxious writing this; too often the words of individuals are taken as representative opinions of entire groups. It is not my intent to represent any broad group, any 'gender' or experience, I am merely articulating my own opinions, as based on personal experience.
I’m hoping that people reading this are familiar with hardcore punk as a diverse genre, and as a locally produced phenomenon. They will be (hopefully) familiar with the fact that most hardcore scenes are populated and re/created mainly by males, that most producers, promoters, bands, and active participants, are male. The dominant tone of hardcore is 'aggressive', which in Western society has masculine connotations. This isn’t simply a question of gender, it is a question of 'masculinity', a descriptive tool used to create 'male' as powerful and domineering. It is this overtly articulated masculinity, I believe, that creates the privileging of space we experience in the specific public space that is the hardcore show, and specifically in dancing at shows. I believe that the way space is used at the show is one of the many ways that the ‘aggressive masculinity’ discourse is perpetuated in the hardcore community. I also believe that it doesn’t have to be this way. Critical self-awareness should cause people to realise their actions restrict others, and while it may lead to a transformation of the way space is used, I feel it would be a positive alternative to the current state of play, where many watch passively and a few actively engage in a physical way.
Moshing could represent any number of things. A way for a very small number of people who are really frustrated to get all that anger out of them by beating themselves, and each other, up in a very controlled way, as it is often articulated by those who engage in and promote it. Or it could be seen as a ritual performance of a semiotically produced masculinity which privileges physically strong and more-than able-bodied young people, usually male, of a certain level of social standing within the community, to engage in a systematic and ordered physical reproduction and interpretation of the musical performance taking place on stage. It could also be seen as deliberately exclusionary, discouraging all but a handful of people, from standing at the front of the room. Or a combined interplay of all of the above.
Depending on the size of the show, anything from 3 or 4, to many more, people might mosh during a performance, dependent on a large number of variables other than show size. The fact is, and I’m a person who hates using the language of 'fact' or ‘truth’, that the vast majority of those engaging in this act will be male, to the extent that it is almost safe to say that it is unusual for a female to participate. Stylistic divisions and technicalities aside, this act privileges a specific type of male, to the extent that it excludes other males and in most cases, all females. Correct me if you will.
Rather than excusing behaviour which, if I’m being honest, seems elitist and exclusionary, I would rather it were openly acknowledged that this privileging exists, and that it is unreasonable. I see no reason why a handful of people, whatever gender, are allowed to take up a large space at the front of the room. Somewhere along the way it became acceptable for a few to have a really great time at the expense of lots of other people being allowed to just stand wherever they like in the venue, or risk having a fist to the face, or being shoved by a stranger.
If you’re like me, you may have grown tired of it by now and stopped going to shows quite as often, choosing to stand at the back when you do. You might have discovered hardcore bands that don’t encourage elitist behaviour, or other genres of music whose audience activity at live performances involves less simulated physical violence. Other than being mildly angry about it, it is a situation which now directly affects me very little. For regular show goers who deem it problematic, those active in their own scene, and those, crucially, in bands or promoting shows, or those who have a voice and the ability to make it heard, questioning a behaviour which, when exercised to a degree that it affects the enjoyment of others, and can in specific cases end in injury, can only be a positive thing. Unfortunately I don’t have a convincing solution, and I don’t believe that things will change. However that doesn’t mean that those who object to having to stand back at shows, while others get to thrash about, and take up a lot of space, shouldn’t speak out.
Amy Greer just finished an undergrad in Sociology and Social Policy in Trinity College Dublin. She hates Ireland and is moving to London soon to start a Masters at Goldsmiths/be more productive. She blogs here and here, and feels uncomfortable summing herself up in short paragraphs. She likes hearing what other people think about topics relevant to her interests. “You know, the usual bullshit people of my demographic enjoy.” She can be contacted at email@example.com
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- oofstar said: to crazypotatogirl: it doesn’t matter that women mosh as much as men. the reason moshing is considered -the- way to express love of hardcore music to the exception and marginalization of other excpressions is due to it’s association with masculinity
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- crazypotatogirl said: Fair enough, but at all the concerts I go to (and admittedly it’s probably very different since I live in Sydney) girls mosh as much as guys
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